Three Things I Don’t Understand About Bexar County Library Funding

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Two girls check out books during a recent event at Mission Branch Library.

Two girls check out books during a recent event at Mission Branch Library. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Public Library.

Editor's Note: John E. Newman, Jr. was the Chair of the City of San Antonio/Bexar County Blue Ribbon Library District Commission formed in March 2006 by Mayor Phil Hardberger and Judge Nelson Wolff.  The Committee was made up of 10 appointees by the City and five by the County. The Final Report dated June 20, 2007 can be found on the San Antonio Public Library Foundation’s website,, or downloaded by clicking here.

1. Why Bexar County does not pay for its fair share of library services

County residents who live outside San Antonio account for 18.2% of the San Antonio Public Library System’s circulation but the County only pays for 11.2% of the Library’s annual operating budget – the County pays $3.8 million of the $33.6 million budget. If the County paid 18.2% of the Library’s budget – which does not include the cost of the buildings – it would pay $6.1 million.  The difference between what the County uses and what it pays is $2.3 million, meaning the citizens of San Antonio are picking up 38% of the County’s bill.  That’s not fair.

2. Why Bexar County needs its own library system

A comparison of services between BiblioTech and San Antonio Public Library System.

A comparison of BiblioTech and San Antonio Public Library System services. Click here to download full size PDF.

Now, believe it or not, the County is proposing to reduce its payment by at least $300,000 per year for four years beginning in FY2016 going to $2.58 million in FY2020 – roughly equal to what the County paid in FY2005, 15 years earlier – and make the “fee for service subject to additional (unlimited) decreases should additional Biblio Tech centers (be) built.”  The likely long-term results will be shortened hours, reduced services and closed Library branches with non-city residents losing their library cards.  City and County residents will encounter these hardships because of the County’s misguided desire to start a competing library system serving much fewer people.

San Antonio and Bexar County residents already have an accredited, award winning library system with the main library and 25 branches. It does not make financial sense to try to duplicate a system that already exists and serves our needs.  That’s not smart.

3. Why Bexar County Commissioners and Judge act as if they only represent County residents outside the City

As residents of San Antonio we vote for both a County Commissioner and the County Judge.  They are “our” Commissioner and Judge the same as the County residents who live in the ring around the City. Why do our County Commissioners and Judge want to allocate funds away from a library system that is serving all our needs?  Everyone in the County will suffer from our Commissioners and Judge’s misallocation of resources. That’s not wise.

In 2007 the City of San Antonio/Bexar County Blue Ribbon Library District Commission unanimously recommended the formation of a countywide library district in order to provide improved library services for all of Bexar County.  The proposed funding was the 1/8-cent sales tax that ultimately went to fund Pre-K 4 SA, but the need for a unified sustainable library system did not change.

Bexar County's avoidance of paying its fair share of services and reducing funding for the San Antonio Public Library in order to create a competing library system is in direct opposition to the Commission’s findings.  I strongly suggest the County Commissioners and Judge take the report off the shelf and give it a good read in order to avoid the wasteful and wildly inefficient duplication of services.

If the County implements its plan, the City and County combined will spend more money on libraries than both are spending now and the taxpayers will receive much less in return. There is nothing innovative, entrepreneurial or “high-tech” about paying more for less. It is simply old-fashioned, puro San Antonio; "Remember the Alamo(dome)."

*Featured/top image: Two girls check out books during a recent event at Mission Branch Library. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Public Library Foundation.

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The Digital Future of Libraries in San Antonio

City’s Proposed Budget: No Tax Increase, No Frills

The CIPA Debate: Millions for the Library or Free-Range Content?

The Cost of Going Digital: Are Textbooks Dead?

4 thoughts on “Three Things I Don’t Understand About Bexar County Library Funding

  1. Many non-tech folks use the library’s books to educate themselves and their children, and those branches have easily accessible neighborhood computer services for patrons, who often can’t afford to purchase their own. That is what and where services should be expanded, rather than building separate new branches that de-emphasize printed books and the educational process of socializing with other book lovers, causing older branches to close. Tech-savvy folks use their own personal electronic devices in preference to publicly provided services, so who is the actual target market for the BiblioTech?

  2. Not sure that this is mentioned in your article, but they’ve also cut WAY back on what’s available via interlibrary loans (an important way to supplement/offset a more meager offering locally). There are now very few services available to learn where the books and other materials you’ve ordered are in transit, and the wait time has increased considerably — all after funds were cut drastically for this necessary service. If SA wants to see itself as (cough, cough) a world-class city, or even the touted-but-inaccurate 7th largest city in the U.S., it needs to address this.

    I would second your suggestion about having a county library system too. Seattle/Bellevue, WA, where I lived for 15 years, had two outstanding rival systems, and typically 4/5 of what you wanted was available somewhere right now in the system, without even needing to use an interlibrary loan from beyond the system. I used the county system heavily — 500 books a year — and treasured that experience., if I remember correctly.

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